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The 50 Best 2019 Films We’ve Already Seen

Written by on January 7, 2019 

Climax (Gaspar Noé; March 1)

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Gaspar Noé has probably never been likened to Lazarus before – or any other saint, for that matter – but he’s fully earned himself the comparison with Climax, which constitutes a miraculous comeback after the nadir that was Love. It has all the in-your-face trademarks of the Noé brand, but here they’re packaged in a compact, expertly crafted horror flick that transcends its puerility to achieve something altogether sublime. – Giovanni M.C. (full review)

Black Mother (Khalik Allah; March 8)

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Comparisons of Black Mother to cinematic poetry are apt, but it’s harder to pinpoint than that, more aptly described in relation to sound or music–free-flowing jazz, fluidly connecting otherwise inconceivable strands of culture, politics, and history in Jamaica. The faces shown rarely match the soundscape and the audio and visual components of the film seem to operate parallel to each other. Words, in this case, fill in what traditional scoring tries but often fails to accomplish. – Jason O. (full review)

An Elephant Sitting Still (Hu Bo; March 8)

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Though in many respects unpolished, late Chinese director Hu Bo’s first–and only–feature is a cry into the void so raw and resounding it shakes you out of a stupor you never even realized. The breathlessly long set pieces build up a sense of suffocation in real time, while the subtle music and camerawork evoke the constant, unspoken despair of a billion nobodies. This is the work of a keenly observant storyteller who bared his last outrage on screen and who probably proved too perceptive for the moral bankruptcy of this world. – Zhuo-Ning Su

3 Faces (Jafar Panahi; March 8)

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3 Faces is the fourth film Jafar Panahi has made in defiance of a 20-year filmmaking ban the Iranian government issued against him in 2010. The first three were all small-scale affairs, shot solo or with tiny crews, in which the camera never left the confines of a given space – Panahi’s apartment building in This Is Not a Film (2011)a holiday house in Closed Curtain (2013), and a taxi in Taxi (2015). His newest, which sees him working with a larger team, is almost entirely set in a remote village in the mountains, likely in Iranian Azerbaijan. This shift is in keeping with the thematic trajectory drawn by this series of clandestine films. While the first one focused on Panahi’s own predicament, each new installment has expanded the scope of his critique, encompassing further facets of the oppression engendered by the authoritarian values that hold sway over large parts of Iranian society. – Giovanni M.C. (full review)

Ash is Purest White (Jia Zhangke; March 15)

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For over two decades the filmmaker Jia Zhangke has, through his movies, shown Western audiences a barometer of life in 21st Century China. Ash is Purest White was both the most expensive and, arguably, least political film that Jia has made (read into that what you will) but it was also his most shape-shifting, adventurous and heart wrenching work, too. The director’s partner Zhao Tao provides that heartbeat as the wife of an absent mob guy who goes on an odyssey to find him. The film–and perhaps the world of Jia itself–would simply evaporate without her. – Rory O.

Giant Little Ones (Keith Behrman; March 15)

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Writer/director Keith Behrman knows exactly what he’s doing when introducing a variety of people along the sexuality spectrum in his latest film Giant Little Ones. He’s intentionally flooding his canvas so that we have no choice but to accept them all rather than turn our focus onto just one. There’s no room for token characters anymore, the real-life disparity between heterosexuals and homosexuals closing as each year passes. So Behrman looks to represent that change on the big screen by giving his lead (Josh Wiggins’ Franky Winter) a trans friend (Niamh Wilson’s Mouse), a gay father (Kyle MacLachlan’s Ray), and a gay teammate on the swim team (Carson MacCormac’s Michael). He surrounds Franky with non-cisgender characters to love, resent, and accept each for different reasons that transcend compassion. – Jared M. (full review)

Her Smell (Alex Ross Perry; March 29)

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Distinct from musicals, music biopics, and documentaries, fiction films about the challenges faced by musicians in practicing their craft have been around since the earliest days of cinema. From The Jazz Singer and A Star Is Born to recent releases such as Not Fade Away and Inside Llewyn Davis, the tribulations of musicianship have long fascinated filmmakers and audiences alike. Although these struggles are typically emphasized for dramatic purposes, rarely is the viewer subjected to the downward spiral of one of these artists for the overwhelming majority of the runtime, let alone with such intoxicating lucidity; a feat that Alex Ross Perry’s Her Smell accomplishes with flying colors. – Kyle P. (full review)

Diane (Kent Jones; March 29)

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The narrative directorial debut of film scholar, curator, and documentary filmmaker Kent Jones elicits an awful lot of anticipation. Often, first features contain raw emotions and boundless pent-up ideas often toned down in future efforts. Diane, written and directed by Jones–known for his collaborations with Martin Scorsese, along with his previous theatrical feature which aimed to recapture the spirit of Hitchcock/Truffaut’s conversations by engaging with the best filmmakers working in contemporary cinema–is an observant and nuanced dramas which feels closer to the emotional truths of Kenneth Lonergan and Angus MacLachlan than the formal flair of Scorsese and Hitchcock. – John F. (full review)

The Biggest Little Farm (John Chester; April 5)

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After getting evicted from their apartment in Los Angeles due to taking in a stray dog, filmmaker John Chester and food writer Molly Chester decide to try and cultivate a storybook farm in The Biggest Little Farm. The latest entry into the canon of films exploring food and ecosystems, like Aube Giroux’s Modified and Andrew Grace’s Eating Alabama, the documentary works as well as it does because of a reliance on its relatable subject and the director as its narrator. – John F. (full review)

Long Day’s Journey into Night (Bi Gan; April 12)

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Granted, the impenetrable first half of this trip of a film is not the easiest to sit through. But once one gets what Bi Gan is going for, i.e. leading the viewer on an escape from the cluttered, painful realm of memory into the fluid, liberating embrace of dreams, it’s hard not to be staggered. Each of these worlds, similarly elusive as they are, is brought to life with distinct cinematic textures, thanks in part to the three DPs who pulled off one of the year’s most impressive photographic feats in accompanying us magically across the 2D/3D divide. Whether in terms of ambition or approach, this is radical, hauntingly beautiful stuff. – Zhuo-Ning Su

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